Saturday, January 07, 2006

Fijian Grandmother

Story about my Grandmother
I hate fruit bats, horrified by their eyes and teeth when they flap around
the mango trees. My Fijian mother-in-law, a beautiful gentle lady, said they tasted so sweet when boiled with coconut cream. She was living with us in
Rakiraki one year, blended easily into our household with two small children
and a lass from Labasa who helped me in housework because I was teaching
part-time at Penang Sangam High School.
We watched the bats swarm over the two tall trees and chased them with a
long bamboo pole. They scattered and shrilled and made a shawl of black
swooping against the moonlit sky.
Grandma had invited her near-blind friend to visit from the nearby village.
Her friend brought tapioca peelings every day to feed Kanakana and Lesumai,
my pet piglets. The two elderly ladies would sit cross-legged on a mat,
telling stories or with their hands gently moving as they tried to remember
the dance movements and text of old sitting dances. One song described the
huge tsunami of 1920 that caused so much destruction many miles inland from
I gave up on chasing the fruit bats. There would still be hundreds of
succulent mangoes for our use, to eat fresh, to pulp for the little boys, to
turn into chutney or sweet jam with slices of ginger. I'd even ladled a
sample of the new jam into a silver bowl, one of the few wedding presents
that had survived the customary scramble between relatives to loot the
gifts. That had been a shock to me, a vavalagi, that there was very little
left of the pickings from the numerous gifts we had received three years
Then I noticed Grandma and her friend had left the compound, walking down
the road, Grandma holding her blind friend's arm. I asked my husband where
they were going.
'Oh Kanakana has escaped.'
She was the fat female piglet, her name referring to her chunkiness. The old
ladies wanted to find her before a sugarcane truck got her. I was in a panic
then, and I ran down the road to join the search. We rescued Kanakana and
she survived a few more years, even the shift to Labasa, where she gave
birth to over twelve piglets every few months.
Isa, Kanakana was eventually dinner for hundreds of visitors. I refused to
eat meat that day.
The occasion was so sad. Our Fijian grandmother in her seventies had passed
away, and we were obliged to be bountiful in hospitality for the visitors.
Grandma's grave in on a small rise, not far from the houses in Vatuadova
village, a few kilometres west of Labasa town in Vanua Levu. Frangipani
shrubs are flowering and usually on each Boxing Day, the family tidy up and
plant new cuttings there.


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